Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The Horrors Of Toasting, Explained

For about the past decade-and-a-half, I have been engaged in a perpetual, low-level war with the common or household toaster.

They'd turned evil on me, with the same setting producing wildly varying results, with the second run of toast popping up burned, etc. etc.; it had all started when I switched from a battered old warhorse of a toaster to a shiny modern device touted as "The Toaster With A Brain." It had a brain, all right -- the brain of a malevolent fire worshipper. The blame thing was out to get me and very nearly succeeded.

So this morning, the current super-duper toaster calmly and quietly burned my bagel black. I was, as they say, a little crestfallen at this eventuation:

RX: "Oh shucks! Gee-golly! Spit! This miserable son of a seacook has ruined my bagel!

Tam: "It does that when it's hot. Careful, the next one will be even more burned unless you turn it down."

RX, outraged that physics has been undermined: "What? That's impossible! The thermostatic timer should cut off even sooner!"

Tam: "That's not how it works!"

RX: "Oh, tut-tut!" --And I would have been right, too -- in 1937. Or even '67.

In modern toasters, instead of a nifty bimetallic-thermostatic timer, which automagically compensates for toaster heat (albeit imperfectly, and ditto room temperature; but at least the better ones tried), there's a sloppy little resistance-capacitance timer, a crummy "one-shot," the circuit that is a hallmark of lousy dedicated-logic design, in this case as executed by Red Chinese engineers with a budget of negative renminbi. It tends to react to heat in a way opposite to the old-fashioned approach: heat it up and it runs for a longer time. Likewise, if the kitchen is a little warm (we can't keep chocolate out 'cos it puddles), the toast makes a Great Leap Forward in toasting duration.

Meanwhile, my retrotechnophile brain, running on autopilot in the morning, treats all toasters as if they were the chrome-plated wonders of my halcyon youth (gak), which means they behave pretty much exactly contrary to my expectations.

Luckily, we had two more bagels left. I reset the control and watched the sneaky little automaton until my breakfast was ready, just in case it was out to burn it again.

32 comments:

Bob said...

"son of a sea cook" was my maternal grandfather's favorite epithet. He was in the Navy during the 'tween-wars period, and served on board the presidential yacht Mayflower, I'm told. It's possible he served during the same period as Rex Stout. I'll have to look up his service record some time.

Ken said...

Toaster oven. Works on a continuously variable timer, and one can observe the miracle as it unfolds. And when one has guests, one can make up to six slices at a go.

Wayne Conrad said...

So *that* is why my last two toasters have been so awful. Gawd.

With any luck, I can find a trustworthy old toaster at an estate sale.

Stranger said...

I finally gave up on "modern marvels" and found a classic Sunbeam in nearly new condition at the Salvation Army store.

The toast varies a bit, depending on how dry it is and what point in the queue it is - but my quick bacon and cheddar on rye is no longer on rye cinders.

Stranger

Montie said...

Bobbi,

It's time to go retro and locate a good used older model like Stranger did. maybe even a couple and you could do a comparo over at "Retrotechnologist".

DJ said...

Lemme guess. It was an LM555, right?

North said...

DJ LM555? Would a 4 slot toaster use a 558?

Would it be a breadboard circuit?

BobG said...

What caliber for a toaster?

Anonymous said...

Check out Ebay. For example Ebay item #280715299455.


Last "retro" item I bought there was a shower head _without_ a flow restrictor.

John Peddie (Toronto) said...

Precisely why I did a small bit of retro tech myself: cleaned up a 1930s Westinghouse "drop-side" toaster and put it back into service.

With a bit of experience, you learn to drop and flip the toast at the right time.

Works like a ...well, like a toaster. What a novel idea.

ChrisJ said...

Ditto Stranger

Have a look at a Sunbeam T-20 on ebay. I have one, my mother has one, my grandmother has one with several in reserve, my great-grandmother...

You get the point. The only hang-up is that the slots aren't big enough for bagels. Otherwise, they're chrome-plated perfection.

Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

I'll second Ken's suggestion. Toaster ovens are also great for reheating small items that don't reheat well in a microwave. They're really good for reheating pizza slices without making the crust tough and chewy like nuking sometimes does.

Drang said...

"I'm not a Brewster after all!"

What?

You still have to keep an eye on a toaster oven, but they're pretty darned handy.

Sarah The Cranky said...

Ah. So it isn't just me. I KNEW my Grandma's old toaster from the 1950s or so was better than the so-called "high-speed" model we have here at the house.

mikee said...

I have never set my toaster - any of them that I have owned over the decades - higher than "2" out of "10" and see no way anything higher than "2" can do anything but burn the item being toasted.

And yes, there are bodies buried in the basement. All that yellow fever in Panama, don't you know! Teddy, stop charging up the stairs!

Bubblehead Les. said...

Be glad it doesn't Talk. Just ask Dave Lister.

Justthisguy said...

My Mom's Sunbeam, with which I grew up in the fifties, would never have thought of committing such an atrocity. It finally died around 1970 and she got another one, which lasted past her death.

There is a reason that The Brave Little Toaster is portrayed as a Sunbeam toaster.

BGMiller said...

2 points to Bubblehead Les for the Red Dwarf reference.

Also, you want to see toasted bread turn into a from your first due engine company find a commercial vertical conveyor type toaster. We have one at work that like to fold up slices of bread as they go up and over the top and hold them for a bit. End result is charred cigar like thing, a cafe full of smoke, and security wondering why the fire panel is lighting up. And then there was the genius that decided to run a croissant through it. That ended well....

BGM

dehakal said...

I am a firm believer in a wall hung steel plate with around 4 nails tack welded on and a bottle of MAPS gas with a Piezo striker flame head. You control the amount of toast or Char

DJ said...

@North

Why a 558? All four slots work simultaneously off a single timer, right? I've never seen one that worked any different.

Don said...

Thank you. I knew my toaster was a piece of frustrating shit, but I didn't understand why.

Ed Skinner said...

Perfect application for an Arduino processor with a 4x4 pixel video camera set to focus on the surface of the toast. Add a color LCD and a "darker" / "lighter" center-off mini-bat toggle to set and also monitor the progress and you'll have yourself a real money-maker!

og said...

When I weasd single, I just toasted toast on the gas jets. Downside, you had to be cautious. Upside, pretty star=patterns on the toast from the stove grates! Electric stoves work much better.

phssthpok said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KyRCQp32p8

Foamy the Squirrel and the Amityville Toaster.

Toasted. Human. Hand.


Nuff said.

(WV: mitin)

Roberta X said...

BTW, techies, a 555 would be a step up for the toaster in the linked example, which features 2 (two!) Actual Transistors as the active device.

DJ said...

Lemme guess. Germanium, right?

Sabra said...

I'll third the rec for a toaster oven. Lately, though, I've been switching between making toast under the broiler and on my cast iron comal (with judicious application of olive oil).

North said...

DJ: Just for _humor_. A single-slot toaster - 555. Dual - 556. Quad - 558.

My comment was not intended to be taken as professional design advice.

Ed: I have all the parts in my lab. Come on over.

Roberta X said...

North, Ed, what happens with darker bread -- rye, pumpernickel, Roman Meal?

Does the photocell need to be augmented by a look-up table that uses "start" color to to determine "finish" color?

DJ said...

"Does the photocell need to be augmented by a look-up table that uses "start" color to to determine "finish" color?"

I'm game. Use start color, finish color, and (here's the best part) intensity and pattern in infrared. Further, pulse the radiant energy so you can detect the emitted energy from the bread surface rather than the reflected energy from the heat source. Or, just heat it with one wavelength and watch it with another.

Or, just watch it in the toaster oven until it's just right, like I do. (I put real butter on it before toasting it, so that's the only way I can do it. Tastes great, less filling.)

Unknown said...

Many moons ago, when the internet was new and Tim Berners-Lee was still in high school, there circulated a piece of well-crafted email detailing the experiences of a fellow trying to design a simple toaster which ends up being embedded-engineered out from under him.

Towards the end I seem to recall they were using the heat off the embedded 386 to toast the bread.

I didn't treat it as fiction then and I don't treat it as fiction now.

DaveFla said...

A few years back I bought a spiffy Panasonic infrared toaster oven with the intention of hacking it into a tabletop reflow oven, as in an article I'd seen in Circuit Cellar (it got a reprieve when we purchased the real thing at work.) Back in the kitchen, it seems to take a while longer than conventional toasters. But nothing's ever burnt, and it does a nice job on frozen sweet potato fries.